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The Impostor by Damon Galgut PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 27 May 2008 02:56

Johannesburg: Penguin.

Adam, a middle-aged white man, edged out of urban South Africa by the loss of his job to a young black man, retreats to a ramshackle cottage in the Karoo. Next door lives an elderly Afrikaner, who at first avoids him but eventually proves desperate for company. Adam later meets Canning, who remembers him with gratitude because of advice given in their schooldays. He begins to spend weekends at Canning’s estate, which the latter visits regularly with his beautiful, enigmatic black wife. The estate, intended by Canning’s father to become a game farm, is an African earthly paradise – river, forest, mountains, kloof – and an old lion, a figure of the hated father.

Canning’s wife, Baby, on whom he depends emotionally, begins an affair with Adam. Canning seems unaware of this, and confides to Adam his plan for revenge on his dead father: the earthly paradise will be destroyed and replaced by a golf estate. This involves bribery of the mayor of the town, and of higher-level officials, and Canning tries to involve Adam in this. It emerges that Canning himself is no more than a pawn (though one who will be richly rewarded), and international organised crime is involved.

To go further with the plot would be to demotivate the potential reader, and though the novel is rather too plotty – even the next door neighbour and the weeds in Adam’s garden are the focus of subplots – the interesting questions don’t concern events. What is at issue is the neatness with which the characters fit into received ideas of the political and social scenes of present-day South Africa. Take Baby, for example: beautiful, sexy, pitiless as regards the poor, and on the make in a new world. Still experimenting when she begins her association with Adam, she soon finds a richer and more powerful man, and as Canning recognises, is on her way upwards. Yes, but I met the type in Isidingo years ago.

The novel sustains tension, and is more than readable – I read it myself at a single (long) sitting – but when I had finished it, there were no surprising insights. Galgut has emerged from the sub-Graham Greene atmosphere which permeated his last novel, The Good Doctor, and it may be unfair to ask of him what Coetzee’s Disgrace offered us. But he is a talented writer, from whom one can’t help hope for more originality.

 
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